April 23, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Graces of sacraments give us hope in dark times

Like everyone else, I do not seek illness or suffering, and I do not relish it.

Yet as it happens and is well known around the archdiocese, I have another problem following a two-year succession of health issues. As I look at my problems, I am reminded of my mom.

One Sunday afternoon, she drove from Jasper to Saint Meinrad to tell me in person that she had “another problem.”

In addition to advancing arthritis, she had been informed that she had diabetes and glaucoma.

Without drama, in a straightforward way, she said, “Mark [my baptismal name], I have a problem.” I have always been impressed by the way Mom accepted her lot, and I try to follow her serene lead.

By the time this issue of The Criterion goes to press, I should be undergoing surgery to remove a mass from my stomach. It was discovered when a CT scan was performed to locate a kidney stone.

The tumor is expected to be benign, but must be removed. It is entirely unrelated to Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which I had two years ago and from which I am still in remission.

With hindsight, I can say the kidney stone was a blessing in disguise. Without the scan, I would not have known of the tumor for some time.

In the past, I have said that I prayed to understand the meaning of the succession of health problems I have had during the last two years. I wasn’t sure I could figure it out. But I think Jesus has given me a new light.

During early sleepless hours one morning, I experienced “an overwhelming sense of privilege in joining my suffering to that of Jesus.” I felt “a profound joy that I can do this for real.” There was also “a flood of humble gratitude that Jesus would choose me.” These unexpected thoughts, admittedly pious and yet profound, have stayed with me.

I think these simple convictions grew out of the impact on my attitude by a touching note from a sixth grader, Ian. I mentioned him before. Recall that he began his note: “Archbishop, I love God with all my heart.” His words have become a refrain in my prayers throughout the days—and nights—since then.

Ian wrote about a problem, and I have responded trying to help him. Probably more than usual in recent weeks, I have become more keenly aware that I am not the only one who has a problem.

When possible on Friday mornings during Lent, I helped hear confessions at St. John the Evangelist Church in downtown Indianapolis.

People, some in tears, recounted tragic problems of their own. Some folks are angry, some at the Church. Others are anxious for an estranged child, a son who says he doesn’t need God, the return of a brain tumor, worry that a grandchild is being kept from the faith.

So many folks carry anxious problems in their hearts. Yet I was encouraged that these people were seeking the consolation of the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist.

It is springtime, and we are in the glow of the Resurrection. Jesus has won the awesome victory over sin and death. His victory is real, and it is for every one of us.

We need to claim our ownership of his victory. Of course, our challenge is to keep our ultimate goal—union with Jesus in the House of the Father—before our minds and in our hearts.

It is helpful in those wakeful hours and sleepless nights that come our way to choose to pray a simple word to Jesus. Not always, but sometimes we are surprised by an inspiring response.

Like the penitents that I encountered during Lent, we need to choose the sacraments in order to receive moral and spiritual strength—and consolation. Jesus gave them to us for precisely the reasons we need them. The unseen graces of the sacraments are there to give us hope in the dark times.

Confident peace comes with an awareness of our union with Jesus that may be as close by as a visit to our parish church. Sickness and suffering need not rob us of inner peace. Awareness of Jesus at our side can be a source of serene joy.

Yes, we feel the sting of the splinters that come from our day-to-day crosses. And yes, some crosses are heavy, but we don’t have to carry them alone. It helps to notice that the cross of Jesus radiates the promise of eternal glory.

I pray that you who are weighed down with worries or sickness or sufferings of any kind find yourselves confident that Jesus cares, and that he invites you to walk closely with him on the way to the House of the Father. †

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